Haven’t we had enough World War II drama series? Maybe not. “Island at War” exceeds expectations and, despite a topic that has been turned into TV series and movies more times than most of us can count, manages to draw in the viewer and keep them interested throughout its six episodes.
St. Gregory is the fictional town for this British television drama, based upon historic events that took place in the Channel Islands, which are part of the British Commonwealth, but closer to France than England. In 1940, German troops landed on the islands and occupied them until 1945. Anticipating their arrival, English military actually left the islands, essentially leaving the residents to manage for themselves. A significant number of islanders evacuated, but the majority of the population remained.
“Island at War” focuses on the early months of this occupation. Initially, the show is centered on how several of the main characters and their families adapt to the new realities. As the series progresses, we get to know more about some of the German soldiers and their commander, Baron Von Rheingarten (Philip Glenister from “Hidden.”)
Most of the local young men were away as part of the British military. With local women remaining and the presence of young German soldiers, it was almost inevitable that, over time, some “fraternisation” would take place. This is part of, but not the entire story, that “Island at War” presents.
The Germans in this series are portrayed as human, not stereotypical evil Nazis. Many of them did not fully support the mission they were on, but felt they had no reasonable alternative to being soldiers. At times, their personal feelings and desires come into conflict with their role as military men. Ultimately, “Island at War” shows us that along with all the challenges and tragedies of wartime, there are still moments of humanity.
Though the series initially aired on British television in 2004, it has the feel of a much older cinematic drama. The score is orchestral; the cinematography looks like the 1970s, and, of course, the costumes and staging reflect the World War II era.
“The Island at War” episodes are just over an hour each. For a change of pace or as a break between more contemporary shows, this is a series well worth watching. It shows us a slice of some of the lesser known events that occurred during World War II and how those on both sides of the conflict – Channel Island residents and their occupiers – tried to cope. “Island at War” belongs on your Netflix TV list.